Young man fights rare, aggressive bone cancer
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On Nov. 12, one day before his 23rd birthday, Tyler Jenkins, of Shelby Township, was diagnosed with bone cancer.
Jenkins has Ewing’s sarcoma, which is a bone cancer typically found in children and adolescents, and it is rare for an adult to have the condition. A tumor wraps around the front and back of his left hip, and also has metastasized to his right hip, cervical spine, spinal cord, chest, right shoulder, ribs, liver and now his lungs.
Despite suffering from increasingly severe pains for two or three years before his diagnosis, he said doctors did not suspect that he had cancer.
“A 20-year-old shouldn’t be feeling such extreme aches and pains,” Jenkins said. “About a year and two months ago, I started getting really extreme pains in my left hip one week out of each month.”
He said he saw several different specialists and doctors, and first was told he suffered a vitamin D deficiency, then sciatica, a painful nerve condition. As the pain continued, he said he received steroid shots and tried physical therapy, to no avail.
After attempting to work a shift at Macaroni Grill, he said he had to go to the emergency room because his pain was so bad, and neither Vicodin nor morphine shots brought relief. Consequently, his family doctor recommended an immediate MRI.
The next day, Nov. 12, within an hour of getting an MRI on his pelvis, Jenkins said he received news that he had multiple lesions on his pelvis, along with a mass that wrapped around his left hip.
“On Nov. 13, my birthday, I spent the whole day at the hospital doing a bone scan,” he said. “It’s everywhere. I don’t have a good percentage (of survival) — a 20 percent chance. It’s a statistic, so I can be the 20 percent.”
He said he maintains a good outlook and feels positive about his chances.
In the three months since his diagnosis, Jenkins said the first month of chemotherapy was the worst. He lost 18 pounds, endured muscle spasms and had difficulty getting out of bed. However, he now has gained back 6 pounds, is able to move around again and spent Christmas and New Year’s with his family.
“I now have about 14 days a month of doing what I want,” Jenkins said. “But the side effects (of chemo) are really weird. Basically, your whole inside feels like it gets replaced with someone else’s, you don’t feel right, you’re out of it and not yourself, your fingers go numb and you have no energy.”
He added that he has a large support group of friends and family who help keep him going and work hard to generate donations for his medical bills through bracelet and T-shirt sales, as well as solicitation.
Scott McGregor, 30, of Ferndale, coordinated a fundraiser at Cantina Diablo’s in Royal Oak Jan. 15 that featured a silent auction, raffles and a percentage of sales to benefit Jenkins.
“I met Tyler probably about six years ago through some mutual friends, and we’ve been close ever since then,” McGregor said. “One thing about Tyler is, as much as you’re there to support him, all he worries about is entertaining you, making sure you’re happy and keeping a smile on your face.”
Jenkins’ mother, Melissa Jenkins, said her son’s positive attitude gives her strength, and since he is not losing that attitude, she has not had a “fall-apart cry.”
“He’s lost a lot of weight and he lost his hair. Now that was hard watching that, and that made me cry, because if you know Tyler, you know how obsessive he is about his hair,” she said.
She added that her son has been researching what foods to eat and being proactive about his diagnosis.
“He does have his moments where he wishes he could relive all the past memories,” she said. “He’s sad, and he’s scared that he’s not going to be here to make new ones.”
To donate to Tyler Jenkins or watch a short video about his experience, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/team-tyler.